Miami Heat: Should They Really Be Favored To Win the Championship Next Year?

Rich FernandesCorrespondent IJune 30, 2011

Miami Heat: Should They Really Be Favored To Win the Championship Next Year?

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    Bleacher Report’s NBA Debate Team is at it again and what hotter subject to put on the grill, than the one that questions the Miami Heat’s ability to win a championship next season? 

    This is a topic, after all, that will be overdone and burnt to a crisp by this time next year over a new season that will inevitably see the Heat turned up to scorching levels on Miami Thrice as they jump from the frying pan into the fire.

    You can’t deny that LeBron James and the Heatles have made NBA 2010-11 the most exciting season on record with all the same type of on and off-court drama of reality television, as we discovered firsthand from witnessing their major trials and tribulations.

    And the Miami Heat’s Hateration Nation (whose members span far and wide) are frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog with the anticipation of having the world’s most despised villains (of any sport) on the daily breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.    

    But will the Heatles’ apparition of an impending dynasty (that’s supposed to come close to rivaling Bill Russell’s Celtics) start with their first championship next season?

    Vegas analysts have already made the Miami Heat the odds-on favorite to do just that.

    Your L.A. Lakers’ Featured Columnist, Ethan S., and I will prepare to do battle in the High Court against the accused, which includes LeBron James and his Miami Heat.

    And we all have a part to play in this highly charged debate.  Ethan is the prosecutor, I am the defense and you are the judge and the jury. 

    We will attack the above question from two different angles that will reflect our unique perspectives.

    And just for the fun of it, we will throw a few other relevant and compelling questions into the mix.   

James Should Be Blamed for the Heat’s Loss to Mavericks

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    The Prosecution:  Ethan S. 

    Whenever a team with high expectations like the Miami Heat loses in the playoffs, there are bound to be many who will over-analyze the situation and try to find a scapegoat.

    Enter LeBron James. He came into the season as the reigning back-to-back MVP and considered the greatest all-around basketball player in the world according to many (including his idol worshippers like ESPN’s John Hollinger and Henry Abbott).  After all, James continually is one of the best scorers in the NBA and complements his game with exceptional playmaking and effective defensive plays.

    That alone has made him one of the best wingmen of all time in the NBA.

    Never before has the basketball world seen a player as big as a power forward that has the speed and playmaking ability of a point guard and the athleticism of a wing player.

    Then the 2010-2011 season happened.  In James’ first season with the Heat, he averaged 26.7 points per game, 7.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 51 percent from the field and 76 percent from the charity stripe.  In fact, he finished second in the league in scoring.

    For the first three rounds, the Heat proved to be unstoppable, pouncing on their opponents with a 12-3 record.  During the Eastern Conference finals when teammate Dwyane Wade struggled from the field, James stepped up his play and became the focal point of the offense, leading the charge in some miraculous fourth-quarter clutch moments.

    For a moment, people seemed to forget about all of the fourth-quarter issues James had over the course of the season where he appeared too passive or seemed too hesitant to take and make final-second shots.  Fresh in everyone's minds were his dominant performances, so naturally expectations were high for James.

    And he was expected to dominate again against the Mavericks team in the Finals.

    For Heat fans, it would have been nice if James had followed Nike’s slogan of “Just Do It,” but unfortunately, he couldn’t get his act together.

    During the Finals, James appeared to be hesitant and seemed to lack the same sort of aggression.  For instance, he failed to get to the free-throw line regularly and when he did, he only connected on 60 percent of his attempts.  By scoring just 17.8 points per game in the series, that represented an 8.9 points per game drop-off from the regular season, the largest point drop-off in NBA history.

    Over the course of six games in the Finals, James scored 18 points in the fourth quarters combined.  Compared to the 62 fourth-quarter points Dirk Nowitzki poured in, this was quite an appalling output for the supposed “best player on the planet.”

    It is true that James’s all-around play kept the Heat close throughout the series and was probably the primary factor in getting Miami to the final round.  However, his inability to close out games in the end when it mattered most really hurt his team’s ability to win.

    There are other factors that deserve some of the blame, such as missed shots by teammates, defensive lapses and questionable coaching moves by Eric Spoelstra.

    However, as the leader of the team, James deserves a great deal of the blame for the loss.

LeBron James is NOT To Blame for the Heat’s Loss to Mavericks

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    The Defense:  Rich

    Look at the picture above and tell me what you see.  It looks like the Mavs defense at its suffocating best.  What you can't see (behind this scene) is Tyson Chandler waiting like a praying mantis as the second line of defense.

    The blame game that has America’s crosshairs pointed directly at LeBron James’ head is like a burning bush fire that has spread from coast to coast at an uncontrollable rate.

    One thing is for sure: There has been no shortage of patronizing remarks to describe James’ failure to finally win a championship.

    Before the Miami Heat vs. the Dallas Mavericks NBA Finals of last season, the king was under siege by NBA fans everywhere for the immature and irresponsible planning of the “decision” as well as his insane ability to simultaneously put both his feet in his mouth.

    But when in Florida, he remained relatively unscathed by the protection of his new home in South Beach.

    After the Finals, however, there are few Miami Heat fans that are not pointing their fingers at James in absolute disgust as they have now also joined the ongoing witch-hunt.

    But after yet another brilliant season that should have had him win his third straight MVP—because nobody scores, rebounds and assists simultaneously like James—his playoff failure versus the Dallas Mavericks is overly exaggerated and laced with an exorbitant amount of snake venom.

    LeBron was by far the most dominant player of the playoffs as well and if it were not for him, the Heat would not have made it past either the Boston Celtics or the Chicago Bulls.  During those two playoff rounds, the king put the Heat on his back and gorged on his prey.

    In the Finals, the Heat met their match and the headlines should be focusing on how the Mavericks stopped the Portland Trail Blazers, L.A. Lakers, OKC Thunder and Miami Heat on their way to the championship—instead of blowing up James’ failure out of all proportion.

    While it’s true that James was not his dominant self in the series (particularly in the fourth quarter), you cannot deny that Dallas’ suffocating zone defense (see above) answered the bell in each and every final period in which they won the game.

    And the talk of James' huge points per game drop-off in the Finals as compared to his regular-season average does not account for his overall production that included team-leading rebounds and assists.

    A true perspective would focus on the fact that James was guarded like a glove, and just like the teams that fell prey to the Mavericks in the Western Conference before them, the Heat had no answer for Dallas’ perfectly executed zone defense—and nobody in the league ran the zone as effectively and efficiently as the cowboys from Texas.

    Don’t blame James unless you’re prepared to also tar and feather the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade at the very same lynching.  

    Instead point the blame at the truly guilty party, the Dallas Mavericks.  They are the ones that deserve to be charged with crimes against humanity for what they did to the Trail Blazers, Lakers, Thunder and Heat.

James Was Overhyped From Day One and He’s Not That Good

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    The Prosecution:  Ethan S.

    From the time LeBron James was in high school, the media touted him as “the next Michael Jordan.” He was given the nickname “King James” to indicate that he rules over the NBA.

    Furthermore, everyone always told James from the time he was young that he was extraordinarily gifted. Perhaps that’s the main reason why he had “Chosen 1” tattooed on his back.

    Discussing James’ ego or the media hype is like trying to solve the famous chicken or egg question.  Nevertheless, he has put up amazing statistics throughout his career.

    Compared head-to-head with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, some may claim that James is the best player.  Of course, only considering the numbers would be a naïve undertaking.  There’s a reason why those players are considered some of the very best basketball players of all time.

    In short, they mastered all the fundamentals of the game.  They also excelled in the intangibles like leadership, clutch and competitive drive.

    While James has always been one of the best scorers in the NBA, his offensive repertoire has been mostly limited to his driving moves and jumpers.  He has no dominant outside shot or post-up game. James lacks a jab-step move as effective as Bryant’s or a fadeaway shot as dominant as Jordan’s.  He lacks the outside shooting touch of Bird and the hook shots and post moves of Johnson.

    So is LeBron James the best player in the NBA?

    When considering all of the intangibles behind the statistics, one could make stronger cases for Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard.  These same non-statistical components are also the biggest reason why many felt that Kobe Bryant was the better player throughout most of James’ career.

    In summary, James is an amazing player and he still has amazing potential to rise to the greatest heights.  But when it comes to discussing the greatest player in the NBA, James is not the standout player that many in the media like Hollinger and Abbott would want you to believe.

James Is NOT Overhyped and He Really Is That Good

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    The Defense:  Rich

    The media blitz on LeBron James began when he was a young high school stud and a man who played the game of basketball against seemingly little boys.  He was so good and looked so promising that he became an American hero and a favorite subject of curiosity before playing a single game in the NBA.

    James may have made an egotistical mistake by self-anointing himself as King James and the Chosen One, instead of allowing normal protocols that would permit others to provide the nicknames, but nobody had a problem with it until he flew south to Miami.

    Consider that the amount of accolades and achievements under his belt, despite being only 26 years old, is staggering. 

    James just played a major role in taking his team to the Finals and at the age of 26, he already has two MVP awards.

    James’ physical gifts complement his high basketball IQ and he simply has not reached the ceiling of his enormous potential. 

    This 6'8", 260-pound freak of nature is as quick as an NFL running back and as strong as a defensive lineman.  And he has the insane ability to be a quarterback-like facilitator too, with a crystal-clear vision when he's looking downfield. 

    For all intents and purposes, James is most definitely not overrated.

    But without a doubt, an acceleration in his protracted maturation process is the key for James to reach the high ceiling of his potential.

The Miami Heat’s Season Was Nothing Short of a Failure

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    The Prosecution:  Ethan S.

    This season can only be seen as a failure for the Miami Heat.  LeBron James and his teammates put the pressure on themselves.  After the “rah rah” show with the Heatles last summer where they proclaimed that they would win “not six, not seven” but even more championships, the clock started ticking.

    The team only has a few seasons before other teams adjust to combat the Heat and before the athleticism of Wade and James starts to fade.  Call this a window of four or five years. Out of this span, the team is one major injury away from ruining title hopes for a season.

    Given that Wade has been injury-prone with his style of play, this scenario may not be so far-fetched.

    Now with the loss to Dallas, the Heatles have perhaps three or four years left to win six or seven titles. The math is not adding up here favorably for them.

    Plain and simple, James declared early in the season that anything less than a championship this past season would be a failure.  I’ll take his word regarding this issue.

The Miami Heat’s Season Was a Success, NOT a Failure

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    The Defense:  Rich

    The Miami Heat did indeed fail in their bid to win a title this year after making it all the way to the championship game, but to say their entire season was a failure is a bit of an exaggeration. 

    The Heat were, after all, one of only two teams left standing when the NBA Finals began and the other 28 were watching the endgame from home.

    Not a bad accomplishment for a team that was in their first year together and had to undergo a fair amount of soul-searching trials and tribulations on their way to forging the kind of chemistry and synergy that other teams (with the exception of the Dallas Mavericks) would die for.

    First we said that Miami Thrice could not share the ball.  But they have proved that they could with an admirable sense of teamwork that's rare in this league.

    When the Heat were bad, we laughed with an “I told you so” smile and said it was because they lacked a good point guard and center.  When they were good, we were quick to point out that they couldn’t beat the top teams in the league that included, specifically, the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics.

    But the Heat proved that they could (to our unpleasant surprise) on their way to winning 58 games and sending those teams packing in the playoffs.

    One could argue that the L.A. Lakers failed because their payroll was over $30 million more than the Heat’s.  You could also say that Mark Cuban was successful because he also paid to win with the third-highest payroll in the league (more than $25 million more than the Heat's)—and win is just what the Mavs did.

    More money allowed the Mavericks to have better quality players from the starting rotation and through to its bench—the deepest bench in the league.  Their quality guys were numerous and included Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, JJ Barea and DeShawn Stevenson.

    So deep were the Mavs that they didn't have to make a trade to replace the injured Caron Butler.

    While the Heat had Miami Thrice and Udonis Haslem, the talent dropped off sharply from there with non-money players and it showed everywhere from the point guard, center and the bench.

    If it were not for Dallas’ ridiculously stingy zone defense, however, that prevented a LeBron James explosion, it’s unlikely the Mavs would be the current NBA champions.

    In fact, the Blazers, Lakers and Thunder were much better teams than the Mavs made them out to be and so were the Miami Heat.

    So if your argument is that Miami failed, you would also have to admit that you think that the cattle rustlers from Texas are an unworthy champion and that their dominating run that left the Blazers, Lakers, Thunder and Heat in the dust was a ridiculous fluke. 

    On the contrary, the Miami Heat’s season with a team in their first year together was a huge success and they simply were beaten by a better-built team in the end.

Which Teams Have the Best Shot at Stopping the Heat?

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    The Prosecution:  Ethan S.

    There are a few standout teams in the NBA that could potentially stop the Heat next season.

    First, Oklahoma City is a young and markedly improving team.  Having reached the Western Conference finals this season, it is not a stretch to predict the Thunder to reach the Finals over the next few years.  The team has size down low (Kendrick Perkins) and a talented point guard in Russell Westbrook that can attack the Heat at their weakest positions.

    The Dallas Mavericks also have to be included in this discussion.  Not only did the team prove it can beat the Heat this year, but now imagine how good the team would be with a healthy Caron Butler in the mix?

    One should not count out the L.A. Lakers.  True, the team is getting older but I feel the primary reason the team lost this year was due to complacency, being that it was Phil Jackson’s last season and the team had already won the previous two years.

    Next season (assuming there’s no extended lockout cancelling the season) L.A. will be hungrier and well rested after the early playoff exit.  Add coach Mike Brown to the mix and expect the team to be a defensive force in the league.

    In the East, expect Orlando, Chicago and New York to give Miami a run for its money.

    With Orlando, the Magic have perhaps the NBA’s best two-way player in Dwight Howard.  If he can be paired with a legitimate All-Star either on the wings or at the point, the Magic will be a top contender.  If a defensive stopper like Shane Battier can be added to the mix, this team could even become the favorite.

    The Chicago Bulls surprised many this year by earning the best record in the league. Rose is an incredible player who is only going to improve each year. Meanwhile, Luol Deng proved exceptional in serving as a Scottie Pippen-like complementary player with his scoring, rebounding, and defense.

    The shooting guard position is the only weak spot on the roster.  If the Bulls could get a solid player at this position (for example, Jason Richardson), then the Bulls should have enough firepower to go along with its dominating defense to overcome the Heat.

    Finally, one should not count out the Knicks.  The team has two of the best players in Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.  If New York can acquire a third elite player (such as Chris Paul) as well as an interior defender, the Knicks may prove to be too much for the Heat to handle.

    Overall, there will be several teams that will offer plenty of resistance to letting the Heat dominate the league and give hope to all of the Heat haters around the world.

Which Teams Have the Best Shot at Stopping the Heat?

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    The Defense:  Rich


    Orlando Magic

    The league’s most dominant center will in all likelihood remain with the Magic next year and if last season is any indication, he’s getting better all the time.

    But for the Magic to stop the Heat next year, they would need to get a “pure” point guard like Steve Nash, Chris Paul or Deron Williams who are capable of reinvigorating the team and making everyone else around them better.

    With Superman as the main cornerstone and a pure point guard of superstar status covering his back, the Magic will contend with Miami. 

     

    Memphis Grizzlies

    The Grizzlies have an abundance of youth, talent and athleticism and they just proved that they can play with the big boys as they eliminated the shell-shocked Spurs in the first round.

    Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are both fringe superstars and excellent post-game players who are playing like superstars. 

    Add the injured Rudy Gay into the mix with a playoff-tested team and you have a legitimate contender.

     

    OKC Thunder

    The Oklahoma City Thunder are a very young and explosive club full of promise as reflected by their two superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    There are, however, two big problems facing the Thunder, which need to be rectified if they hope to win a championship. 

    First and foremost is Kendrick Perkins, a hole in the middle without the help of his green pal, Kevin Garnett.  Perkins’ unproductive play of single-digit rebounds and points at the bottom of the spectrum is absolutely unimpressive and he needs to be replaced. 

    Secondly, Russell Westbrook is playing out of position and should be moved to the shooting guard spot (his position in college).  A point guard should help make his teammates better by facilitating the offense, something that Westbrook clearly does not do.  Any “pure” point guard will do, including the likes of Chris Paul, Steve Nash or Deron Williams.

     

    Portland Trail Blazers

    The Blazers look like an extremely balanced team on both ends of the court and they are an offensive team with a very solid and gritty defensive game.

    LaMarcus Aldridge has proven that he is one of the best power forwards in the game, and Gerald Wallace is a driving force of talent and sheer determination.  Marcus Camby is still a major defensive force among many on this team, including Wes Mathews and Nicolas Batum. 

    And now, the Blazers got exactly what they needed in a recent trade with the Denver Nuggets, by acquiring an uptempo point guard in Raymond Felton.

    Everyone should be scared about the Blazers next year.

     

    The Oldies but Goodies:  Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks and Celtics

    What do the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks and Celtics all have in common besides the fact that their average ages are in their 30s?

    They all are known for starting the season impressively by blowing by opponents and in the process, putting together one win streak after another.

    And with the exception of the Mavs last season, they all looked drained and tired in the playoffs.

    But next season could be a shortened season due to the complicated process of the CBA.  Give these guys a 50-game season and they will sprint to the very end.  

     

    These Guys Don’t Make the Cut

    The New York Knicks will be “D’Antoni” exciting next year, but that defenseless approach will not win championships.

    Add to the fact that both Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony were both incapable of helping top five teams (Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets) make it out of the West during the several years they played on those teams.

    Sure, a “pure” point guard like Chris Paul will help the Knicks' resolve, but in order to win they will also need a center and a better bench.

    Sending D'Antoni packing for a defensive-minded coach will also be paramount to the Knicks’ success—something that will not happen next season.

    The Chicago Bulls' play against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals was so unimpressive that it left much to be desired, especially for a team that seemed to have total balance.

    A resolution must be found for Carlos Boozer’s tendency to vanish in the playoffs (a most unfortunate residue from his Utah days) as well as Derrick Rose’s one-man, Allen Iverson-like offensive show.  But at least Iverson could take a million shots without shooting 30 percent or less. 

    Either the Heat exposed the Bulls or both Rose and Boozer played while high on drugs.  While there is no answer for a perennial playoff failure like Boozer, the Bulls might be better off moving Rose to the shooting guard spot. 

    After all, not only does Rose play like a shooting guard, but a point guard who is also the team’s No. 1 scoring option is a contradiction in terms—especially when considering the definition of a point guard.

Odds Are Against LeBron James Becoming the Next G.O.A.T.

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    The Prosecution:  Ethan S.

    LeBron James has the potential to become the greatest basketball player of all time.  In order to earn that title according to the public consensus, he will have to work on his overall game and accomplishments much more.

    When I rank NBA players, I always consider the following criteria (which has been consistent throughout all of my articles): scoring, shooting, rebounding, playmaking/ball-handling, defense (both help and one-on-one), clutch, leadership, passion/drive and the ability to dominate in any NBA era (such as those with different game paces, rules and average athlete sizes).

    Regarding his game, James needs to develop a better post-up game as well as better offensive footwork.  He has no go-to move on the offensive end besides his driving ability.  When faced with good defensive teams, James can be taken out of the offense quite easily.

    Furthermore, when James’ athletic ability starts to wane in the coming years, these moves won’t be nearly as effective for him.  The time is now for James to expand his offensive game to close the gap between him, Jordan and Bryant.

    James also needs to work on his mental game.  The best players simply don’t cave into pressure situations.  James was hesitant in the fourth quarters of the Finals this year.  It got me thinking of his contemporary, Kobe Bryant.  When James struggles from the field, he becomes passive and would rather pass the ball.  By contrast, when everything is on the line, it doesn’t matter if Bryant is on a cold shooting streak, as he’ll always demand the ball.

    For example, I watched the last game of this season for the Lakers.  The team was playing the Kings at Arco Arena. If L.A. won, the team would earn the second seed.  If the team lost, it would earn the third seed.

    L.A. goes into the fourth quarter up by 22 points after a fantastic game from Kobe and his teammates. However, in the fourth quarter, neither Kobe nor his teammates could do right.  Eventually with a few seconds to go and with L.A. having possession, the Lakers were down by three points.  Kobe had just missed about seven shots in a row in the quarter.  Yet, I knew he was going to get the ball and make a game-tying three-pointer to send the game into overtime.

    Sure enough, Kobe did exactly what I envisioned (call me a prophet). He would go on to lead L.A. to victory in overtime.

    Can you imagine LeBron acting this way?  Neither can I.  This is one of the fundamental issues that James needs to fix to become the greatest.

    Consider also that the best players must win multiple times and lead their teams to championships (rather than fulfill a supporting role like Robert Horry with his seven rings).  Every great player is usually on a dominant team for at least a few years of his career.  The best players demand that management surround them with enough talent to allow them to go deep in the playoffs.

    LeBron James now has as much talent around him as any player in the NBA.  Dwyane Wade is probably one of the top three or four players in the world and Chris Bosh is a legitimate All-Star.  He simply has no excuses not to win any more.

    In addition to working on his offensive repertoire and mental game, James will have to not just win multiple championships (at least four or five), but he will have to be the clear-cut leader on the team.  After watching the recent Finals series and seeing Wade establish himself in that role, that later task won’t be so easy.

LeBron James Has the Most Potential of Becoming the Next G.O.A.T.

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    The Defense:  Rich

    Michael Jordan is the G.O.A.T. and it’s hard to imagine anyone replacing the demigod for the top-dog status of all time.

    Consider, however, that at the age of 26, among his numerous accolades, James has two MVPs and zero championships.  Also consider that at the age of 26, Jordan had one MVP and zero championships.

    And James is as athletically explosive as Jordan was, but in a stronger, bigger frame.

    Some will argue that James has Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but Jordan had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.  And Pippen was one of the best all-around and most underrated players of all time while Rodman was the best rebounder the league has seen in the last 30 years not named Moses Malone or Kevin Love.

    But more importantly, let us not forget that after the Bulls’ Big Three, Chicago also had quality role players from the starting rotation and through to its bench—vital strengths that are clearly lacking on the Heat.

    If anyone can transplant Jordan with himself at the No. 1 spot, it’s James.  But he would have to make some serious changes to get there.  James will have to focus like Jordan (no easy task) and leave the immature persona at the door.  And he would have to follow that up with a serious commitment to improving his game.

    Just as important, Pat Riley has to fill in the glaring gaps on the Heat that include the point guard, center and bench.

    Last but not least, he will need to keep himself healthy for his entire career like Jordan did.

    And if James can do all that, he'll have the best shot at replacing Michael Jordan at the top, but it remains a daunting and almost inconceivable task—considering he'll need at least six championships.

    No. 2 on the list is a far more reachable goal for James.

James or Wade: If You Could Only Choose One To Win a Title, It Has To Be Wade

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    The Prosecution:  Ethan S. 

    LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are both incredible players who could be the foundation of any team in the NBA.

    However, if I could only choose one to build a team around in hopes of winning a championship, I would pick Wade.

    While James may be the superior athlete, Wade is no chump when it comes to having athletic gifts.  Yet, there are a few reasons why Wade is the better choice.

    First, Wade is a better defender.  I know that many will respond to this claim by talking about the accolades James has received on the defensive end.  However, Wade has always been the better one-on-one defender, due mostly to his superior defensive footwork.

    When it comes to help defense, Wade proved to be quite effective, as evidenced by his numerous swats of seven-footer Tyson Chandler’s shots in the Finals.

    Second, Wade has proven over his career to be the better player in the clutch.  Unlike James, Wade is not afraid to take pressure-packed shots in crunch time.  In this regard, I see much more Michael Jordan in Wade than in James.

    Finally, in two Finals appearances, Wade has stepped up his game both times (also Jordan-like).  On the contrary, James in his two Finals appearances has struggled and failed to post his own average scoring numbers.

    To win the Finals, it helps for a team to have a superstar that is dominant on both ends of the floor while excelling at the intangibles and being a cold-blooded assassin.  Wade has all of those attributes and James does not.

James or Wade: If You Could Only Choose One To Win a Title, It Has To Be James

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    The Defense:  Rich 

    The backbone of the Miami Heat has been the Miami Thrice and even more so, the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. 

    Which one of these superstars should be the first pick to build a team around and win a title?

    While both have had far superior years as the No. 1 option before this year, Wade with the Heat and LeBron with the Cavaliers, this year was about learning how to share the ball.

    But even so, the numbers of each player are nothing to scoff at as they were the league leaders at their respective positions.

     

    Looking at Regular-Season Numbers

    James finished second in the league in scoring with 26.7 points per game and Wade finished fourth with 25.5 points per game. 

    When looking at FG percentage, James finishes with .510 to Wade’s .500; FT percentage has James at .759 to Wade’s .758; 3PT percentage has James at .330 to Wade’s .306; RPG has James at 7.5 to Wade’s 6.4; SPG has James at 1.67 to Wade’s 1.62; APG has James at 7.0 to Wade’s 4.6 and finally TOPG has James at 3.14 to Wade’s 3.05.

    Last but not least and also quite surprising is that the 6'4'' Wade had 1.54 BPG to the 6'8'' James’ 0.63.

    The numbers are surprisingly close, but James wins in almost every category with the exception of both turnovers and blocked shots per game.  Where James has the clear edge is in the two very important categories of rebounds and assists.

     

    Assessing Postseason Performance

    Absolutely no one could touch James’ dominance versus both the Celtics and the Bulls where he literally put the Heat on his back and single-handedly beat both those teams.  And nobody is talking about Wade’s disappearance from the Eastern Conference finals versus the Bulls.

    In addition, Wade was held to just 17 points with five turnovers in Game 6 versus the Mavs with just four fourth-quarter points in that game.  But Wade has been completely absent during the LeBron-bashing and everyone has forgotten how the star taunted the Mavs bench earlier in the series with 15 minutes left and a win all but...not in the bag.

    This was definitely not vintage 2006 championship Wade, who was extremely mature for his young age in playing a huge part in winning the title for Miami by taking a different Mavs team very seriously. 

    Wade was the dominant scorer in the Finals versus the Mavericks and James was often the third-best for the Heat.  But you simply cannot ignore the fact that James often led his team in both assists and rebounds.

    And James’ fourth-quarter freeze-ups were in part the results of the Mavericks suffocating defense answering the bell for the final round and putting their best defenders on James as opposed to on Wade.  More times than not, Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson were in James’ face—put them in Wade’s face and James might have carried his team again in the Finals.

    The fact of the matter is that the Heat had no answer for Dallas’ zone. 

What Changes Do the Heat Have To Make To Win It All Next Year?

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    The Prosecution:  Ethan S.

    The Miami Heat will certainly have to make some changes next year if the team wants to deliver the Heatles their first championship together.

    Every NBA fan knows that the team is weak at the point guard and center positions.  Owner Micky Arison and GM Pat Riley should do everything in their power to upgrade the center position. The chance of going up against teams with bigger frontlines like L.A., Oklahoma City, Dallas and perhaps even Memphis in the Finals is a real possibility.

    Although Zydrunas Ilgauskas is 7’3”, he is more of a liability when he is on the court.

    Meanwhile, Joel Anthony is small at 6’9” compared to the bigger and taller centers from most teams in the league.  The team does not need a star player at this position, but merely someone who could hold their own against most other centers.

    Another change the Heat should consider is moving LeBron James to the point guard position. He is already the team’s primary ball distributor and Riley has some experience running a team with a tall point guard (with the 6’9” Magic Johnson and the Lakers).  This would move Mario Chalmers into coming off of the bench in a sixth-man role, which would help give the second unit a spark. 

    In order for this to work most effectively, however, James will need to improve his post-up game.  Not only would this put him in a more difficult position to defend, but it would also put James in a better position to use his size and grab rebounds.

    James would be nearly impossible to stop for smaller point guards, and he proved effective in guarding quick and small guards as evidenced by his defensive work on Derrick Rose in the playoffs.

    In place of James at the small forward spot, either James Jones or Mike Miller could start—whoever could stay healthy, shoot the most accurate and consistent outside jumper and play effective defense.

    These moves would put James at a more effective position for this team having Chalmers, Anthony, Haslem and Miller or Jones coming off of the bench.  More importantly, the offense should run more efficiently and the Heat would be able to defend opposing big lines more effectively. 

What Changes Do the Heat Have To Make To Win It All Next Year?

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    The Defense:  Rich

    The Miami Heat have a two-time regular-season MVP in LeBron James and a one-time NBA Finals MVP in Dwyane Wade and both players have won scoring titles.  To say that these two players are among the top five superstars in the NBA would be an understatement, as Wade is the best shooting guard and James is the best player. 

    To add to this, Chris Bosh is a perennial All-Star and has found his niche with the Heat.

    They are the Miami Thrice and they have shown their dominance in spades in their first year together.

    But can they win the championship as a team next year?

    With what the Miami Heat have right now, it’s highly implausible that they will win the championship next year because they are simply lacking at the point guard spot, the center spot and the bench.  And the contenders will only improve with better trades—just look at the Trail Blazers' acquisition of Raymond Felton. 

    After failing to win a title this year, however, the Heat will be pressed to make some changes in those very areas that need improvement and that includes learning how to counter Dallas’ zone defense.

    You read it here first that Pat Riley will be smart enough to add enough balance to the Heat to ensure a title in 2011-12.

About the Authors

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    Rich Fernandes

    Rich is a resident of Toronto, Ontario and is an avid sports nut.  Rich’s favorite sports include:  NHL Hockey, NFL Football, NBA Basketball and Ultimate Fighting.  Rich also loves playing the game of squash and he goes downhill skiing in the winter.  Rich has found Bleacher Report to be an enjoyable experience as well as the ultimate platform for the serious sports fan.  Rich's favorite writer (other than Ethan S.) is Robert Ludlum, unfortunately Rich has read all of his novels. 

     

    Ethan S.

    Ethan lives near Seattle, WA and enjoys spending free time between work and family obligations by writing and engaging on Bleacher Report.  Ethan’s favorite sports include NFL Football and NBA Basketball.  In addition, Ethan has interests in outdoor sports and aerospace.  He enjoys the articles of the many talented writers on the site (including Rich Fernandes), and appreciates the support he has received from community members.

     

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